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01 May 2016

The AP exam is tomorrow! What should I do tonight?


Shouldn't I do as many problems as I can before I fall asleep with my head hitting the 5 Steps Book on my desk?

Um, no.  Would you ask your football team to have an all-night weightlifting session the night before the state championship game?  Would you run 50 miles the day before the New York Marathon, just to be sure you're ready?

But I know there are things I'm not perfect at.  I could get better with some practice tonight.

No you couldn't.  Problem solving skills are just that -- skills.  They are built over time, over success and failure, over hard-won experience.  They're not going to improve overnight, no matter what you do.

But there is a chance that I could do a problem that shows up on tomorrow's exam!  Shouldn't I take that chance?

In one night of feverish cramming, sure, you might happen to do a problem similar to what's on the exam.  But every new think you put in your brain tonight will shove something else out.  Isn't it just as likely that the actual AP exam includes a problem that you worked on last week, but since you crammed so much on the eve of the exam that problem just blends together with everything else you've done?

More importantly, it's far more likely that when a recognizable problem shows up on tomorrow's exam, you're so worried and sleep deprived and anxious that you say "ah, I recognize that problem!  But I don't remember how to solve it... dang."

All my friends are cramming tonight, so my teacher and my parents expect that if I don't, I'm slacking.

Well, that's a different problem, one unrelated to physics.  I'm not a politician, I'm a physics teacher.  You may certainly point your teacher and your parents to this post.  Have them email me -- I'll tell 'em straight up that there is no benefit to studying the night before the AP exam.

That's easy to say, Greg Jacobs, but put your money where your mouth is.  Don't you expect your own students to study tonight?  Don't you at least wink wink at them suggesting some things to look over, perhaps in the 5 Steps book?

No.  I'm taking my students out to the school snack bar during the evening study time, for the express purpose of ensuring that they're NOT studying physics.

Look, folks.  At this point you're either ready for the exam or you're not.  There's nothing to be done except for focusing your mindset.  

Another analogy might be performers in a musical an hour before curtain on opening night.  All the practice is done.  Okay, it's a good idea to do a vocal warmup, as well as the mental warmup provided by some of those drama department games.  But should the director say, "hey, let's go through act 1 again, there's some bits we need to work on?"  No.  Just come onto stage brimming with confidence and energy.

You will make mistakes -- in the championship game, on opening night, on the AP exam.  That's to be expected.  If you go in with a positive attitude and a focused mind, then you'll be able to recover from a dropped pass, a flubbed line, or a paragraph response question that ties you up in knots.  

And if it turns out that you're dropping passes on every series, or you flub your lines in every scene, or you are flummoxed by all five free response questions... 

...then deconstruct how you should have approached the ENTIRE YEAR differently.  These aren't problems that practice the night before would have helped -- these are systemic issues of overall preparation.  Address those issues for next season.

For now, relax.  Go bowling.  Play cards with your friends.  Don't have an early night of it -- have a NORMAL night.  Go to bed the same time you always do.  Get up the same time you always do.  Take comfort in your regular daily routine.  

Show up to the exam knowing that you're as prepared as you're gonna be.  My parting words to my class on their way to the AP exam are simple.  



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